While teaching a Shakespeare class at Chapman College last spring, Thomas Bradac, the director of the Grove Theatre Company in Garden Grove, was asked to recommend someone to direct some Shakespeare on campus. Bradac did better than recommend: He agreed to direct--as long as he would be free to experiment with the play’s setting.
Bradac said he wanted to give his students a “different, unfamiliar perspective” on Shakespeare and to dilute any preconceptions that the Bard’s works can be staged only as traditional Renaissance period pieces. The result is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” placed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park during the counter-culture ‘60s and big on the colorful, excessive, jubilant images of the day.
He picked the right play to get his point across: The frolicking “Dream” is all about love, fantasy, personal freedom and belly-laughs, and if any of Shakespeare’s comedies can be transported to the giddy, hallucinatory, idealistic “summer of love” era, it is this one.
So does this hippie “Dream” work? As a learning experience, it seems to provide what Bradac intended--a first-hand dismantling of conservative notions, and a chance to take a chance or two. Happily, the concept clicks for the audience as well.
Purists would shudder, of course. But an open mind can giggle at an Oberon who cruises around his mystical domain on a monster Harley-Davidson chopper, who taps into the spirit world with the help of some pot and who gives the peace sign when everything gets sticky.
There is no trouble with turning Lysander and Demetrius into love-crazy soldiers on furlough, or with transforming Theseus into their commanding officer, either. We can handle Titania’s fairies, now a bunch of flower children draped with beads and painted in Day-Glo. Bradac reinvents the characters without wandering far from the comedy’s intent.
As for the language, well, it does seem out-of-place, even contrary at the start, but the ear adjusts soon enough. Despite the modern duds, we get into the writing’s rhythmic flow. Shakespeare’s humor at love’s expense is not lost here.
Not that this “Dream” is mistake-proof. Transposing the comedy’s naturally effusive style to a wild new environment leads Bradac and his student cast to overdo things in many instances. At times, the show is uneasily corny and vaudevillian. Goofy sight gags are pumped dry, and the actors are allowed to mug endlessly. Sure, “Dream” is probably the broadest of Shakespeare’s comedies, but stretching the vulgarity too far weakens its whimsical, affirming spirit.
With a few exceptions, the student cast needs to work on enunciation and should not rush the lines. The actors have the right vitality but don’t always give enough attention to Shakespeare’s subtleties. There are some standouts, though, including witty Andrew David DeAngelo as the hee-hawing actor, Bottom, and Erik Van Beuzekom, who brings an Easy Rider cool to Oberon.
The production values are strong. Ron Coffman’s attractive set gracefully accommodates all of Bradac’s surprises; Gerry Griffin’s and Ingrid Thronson’s lighting helps create an otherworldly atmosphere, and Iris Gerbasi’s costumes are authentic and bold.
‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’
A Chapman College production of Shakespeare’s comedy. Directed by Thomas Bradac. With Mark Tiffin McKa-HighleymanCQ, Elizabeth Kelley, Sherman Wiggs, Trey Fernald, Kirk Scott, Michael Baker, Kristin Alexander Westland, Laurel McGehee, J. David Dahl, Andrew David DeAngelo, Benjamin Nichols, Edward J. Lowe, Jonathan Klein, Jeffrey Wayne Shaw, Erik Van Beuzekom, Shanda Gibson, Elizabeth Ward, Jolin Harrison, Wendy Kuntz, Curin Benbow, Karla Frizler, Susan Copley, Hiro Zeoli, Dave Janssen and Todd Canedy. Set by Ron Coffman. Lighting by Gerry Griffin and Ingrid Thronson. Costumes by Iris Gerbasi. Plays through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Waltmar Theatre on the Chapman College campus, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Tickets: $3 to $5. Information: (714) 997-6812.